Glass ceiling easier to break The National

Glass ceiling easier to break The National

Glass ceiling easier to break

When the former British politician Virginia Bottomley first became a member of parliament back in the mid-1980s she either wore a black suit, a grey suit or a navy blue suit.

It is not that she had anything against bright colours. But as one of just 23 female MPs out of a total of 650, she had no desire to stand out any further.

«It was like, ‘If you don’t mention that I’m not a man, I won’t mention it either,'» says Baroness Bottomley, who was in Dubai this week to speak at an event about diversity in the boardroom co-hosted by the London Business School and the executive search firm, Odgers Berndtson.

Yet she became and remains a staunch advocate for women in business. Two things changed her attitude. The first was witnessing obstacles faced by her two daughters, who both attended Cambridge University. The second was a realisation that dawned on her while she was secretary of state for health. About 1 million people worked for the NHS and more than three quarters of them were women, yet all of the top management were men.

«I thought, ‘This can only be prejudice that none of the women are getting through.’ Often, the women were better qualified,» Lady Bottomley says.

She began to look at the underlying issues and concluded women tended to be less assertive, more apologetic and harboured more self-doubt.

«They need mentoring. But once they do a job, they get involved, are committed, they are resilient, they are loyal and they are task orientated,» she says.

Although she became interested in women’s advancement while still in office, it was not until she left that she was able to directly make a difference in boardrooms.

Lady Bottomley left politics 13 years ago to enter the world of business as the chairwoman of the board practice for Odgers Berndtson, a global recruiter for senior executives.

It was not always easy to persuade companies of the merits in appointing women to senior positions. About 10 years ago, she asked the boss of a FTSE 100 construction company whether gender would be an issue when searching for a new non-executive director.

«He said, ‘Oh I don’t think we could take that risk [of hiring a woman] in our company,'» says the Baroness, who holds a number of important roles herself, including being on the supervisory board of AkzoNobel NV and a trustee of The Economistnewspaper. «I think I laughed,» she adds.

Times have changed since then and more women now do make executive search shortlists, even if the proportion of men to women is not yet equal.

Glass ceiling easier to break The National

«It depends a lot on the industry,» says Nick Pinner, an associate in Odgers Berndtson’s Dubai office.

«We find there are more prominent women on shortlists in areas such as consumer, media, fast-food and drinks. Where you don’t see as many women on shortlists is in technical infrastructure industries and construction industries,» he adds.

Konstantina Sakellariou, the marketing and operations director for the executive search firm, Stanton Chase, agrees.

She says more senior female executives can be found in sectors such as human resources, marketing and branding. But the lower numbers of women in more technical industries is not necessarily because they are made unwelcome. A lot depends on the choices of women themselves.

Long, unpredictable working hours and frequent travel tend to not be favoured by women, which is why men dominate more in some industries, says Ms Sakellariou.

«In general, though, brilliant examples in the local, regional and international market prove that if a woman decides to put in the needed effort, dedication and work, she is definitely competitive and successfully reaches the levels of leadership she desires,» she says.

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